We now come to the last, but certainly not least, question to be

answered; which is, what do we really know of the man Jesus of Nazareth?

How much of the Gospel narratives can we rely upon as fact?

Jesus of Nazareth is so enveloped in the mists of the past, and his

history so obscured by legend, that it may be compared to footprints in

the sand. We know some one has been there, but as to what manner of

he may have been, we certainly know little as fact. The Gospels,

the only records we have of him,[508:1] have been proven, over and

over again, unhistorical and legendary; to state anything as positive

about the man is nothing more nor less than assumption; we can

therefore conjecture only. Liberal writers philosophize and wax

eloquent to little purpose, when, after demolishing the historical

accuracy of the New Testament, they end their task by eulogizing the man

Jesus, claiming for him the highest praise, and asserting that he was

the best and grandest of our race;[508:2] but this manner of

reasoning (undoubtedly consoling to many) facts do not warrant. We may

consistently revere his name, and place it in the long list of the great

and noble, the reformers and religious teachers of the past, all of whom

have done their part in bringing about the freedom we now enjoy, but to

go beyond this, is, to our thinking, unwarranted.

If the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as related in the books of the New

Testament, be in part the story of a man who really lived and suffered,

that story has been so interwoven with images borrowed from myths of a

bygone age, as to conceal forever any fragments of history which may lie

beneath them. Gautama Buddha was undoubtedly an historical personage,

yet the Sun-god myth has been added to his history to such an extent

that we really know nothing positive about him. Alexander the Great was

an historical personage, yet his history is one mass of legends. So it

is with Julius Cesar, Cyrus, King of Persia, and scores of others. "The

story of Cyrus' perils in infancy belongs to solar mythology as much

as the stories of the magic slipper, of Charlemagne and Barbarossa. His

grandfather, Astyages, is purely a mythical creation, his name being

identical with that of the night demon, Azidahaka, who appears in the

Shah-Nameh as the biting serpent."

The actual Jesus is inaccessible to scientific research. His image

cannot be recovered. He left no memorial in writing of himself; his

followers were illiterate; the mind of his age was confused. Paul

received only traditions of him, how definite we have no means of

knowing, apparently not significant enough to be treasured, nor

consistent enough to oppose a barrier to his own speculations. As M.

Renan says: "The Christ who communicates private revelations to him is

a phantom of his own making;" "it is himself he listens to, while

fancying that he hears Jesus."[509:1]

In studying the writings of the early advocates of Christianity, and

Fathers of the Christian Church, where we would naturally look for the

language that would indicate the real occurrence of the facts of the

Gospel--if real occurrences they had ever been--we not only find no such

language, but everywhere find every sort of sophistical ambages,

ramblings from the subject, and evasions of the very business before

them, as if on purpose to balk our research, and insult our skepticism.

If we travel to the very sepulchre of Christ Jesus, it is only to

discover that he was never there: history seeks evidence of his

existence as a man, but finds no more trace of it than of the shadow

that flits across the wall. "The Star of Bethlehem" shone not upon her

path, and the order of the universe was suspended without her


She asks, with the Magi of the East, "Where is he that is born King of

the Jews?" and, like them, finds no solution of her inquiry, but the

guidance that guides as well to one place as another; descriptions that

apply to AEsculapius, Buddha and Crishna, as well as to Jesus;

prophecies, without evidence that they were ever prophesied; miracles,

which those who are said to have seen, are said also to have denied

seeing; narratives without authorities, facts without dates, and records

without names. In vain do the so-called disciples of Jesus point to the

passages in Josephus and Tacitus;[510:1] in vain do they point to the

spot on which he was crucified; to the fragments of the true cross, or

the nails with which he was pierced, and to the tomb in which he was

laid. Others have done as much for scores of mythological personages

who never lived in the flesh. Did not Damus, the beloved disciple of

Apollonius of Tyana, while on his way to India, see, on Mt. Caucasus,

the identical chains with which Prometheus had been bound to the rocks?

Did not the Scythians[510:2] say that Hercules had visited their

country? and did they not show the print of his foot upon a rock to

substantiate their story?[510:3] Was not his tomb to be seen at Cadiz,

where his bones were shown?[510:4] Was not the tomb of Bacchus to be

seen in Greece?[510:5] Was not the tomb of Apollo to be seen at

Delphi?[510:6] Was not the tomb of Achilles to be seen at Dodona,

where Alexander the Great honored it by placing a crown upon it?[510:7]

Was not the tomb of AEsculapius to be seen in Arcadia, in a grove

consecrated to him, near the river Lusius?[510:8] Was not the tomb of

Deucalion--he who was saved from the Deluge--long pointed out near the

sanctuary of Olympian Jove, in Athens?[510:9] Was not the tomb of

Osiris to be seen in Egypt, where, at stated seasons, the priests went

in solemn procession, and covered it with flowers?[510:10] Was not the

tomb of Jonah--he who was "swallowed up by a big fish"--to be seen at

Nebi-Yunus, near Mosul?[510:11] Are not the tombs of Adam, Eve, Cain,

Abel, Seth, Abraham, and other Old Testament characters, to be seen even

at the present day?[510:12] And did not the Emperor Constantine dedicate

a beautiful church over the tomb of St. George, the warrior

saint?[510:13] Of what value, then, is such evidence of the existence of

such an individual as Jesus of Nazareth? The fact is, "the records of

his life are so very scanty, and these have been so shaped and colored

and modified by the hands of ignorance and superstition and party

prejudice and ecclesiastical purpose, that it is hard to be sure of the

original outlines."

In the first two centuries the professors of Christianity were divided

into many sects, but these might be all resolved into two divisions--one

consisting of Nazarenes, Ebionites, and orthodox; the other of

Gnostics, under which all the remaining sects arranged themselves. The

former are supposed to have believed in Jesus crucified, in the common,

literal acceptation of the term; the latter--believers in the Christ

as an AEon--though they admitted the crucifixion, considered it to have

been in some mystic way--perhaps what might be called spiritualiter,

as it is called in the Revelation: but notwithstanding the different

opinions they held, they all denied that the Christ did really die, in

the literal acceptation of the term, on the cross.[511:1] The Gnostic,

or Oriental, Christians undoubtedly took their doctrine from the Indian

crucifixion[511:2] (of which we have treated in Chapters XX. and

XXXIX.), as well as many other tenets with which we have found the

Christian Church deeply tainted. They held that:

"To deliver the soul, a captive in darkness, the 'Prince of

Light,' the 'Genius of the Sun,' charged with the redemption

of the intellectual world, of which the Sun is the type,

manifested itself among men; that the light appeared in the

darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not; that, in fact,

light could not unite with darkness; it put on only the

appearance of the human body; that at the crucifixion Christ

Jesus only appeared to suffer. His person having

disappeared, the bystanders saw in his place a cross of light,

over which a celestial voice proclaimed these words; 'The

Cross of Light is called Logos, Christos, the Gate, the Joy.'"

Several of the texts of the Gospel histories were quoted with great

plausibility by the Gnostics in support of their doctrine. The story of

Jesus passing through the midst of the Jews when they were about to cast

him headlong from the brow of a hill (Luke iv. 29, 30), and when they

were going to stone him (John iii. 59; x. 31, 39), were examples not

easily refuted.

The Manichean Christian Bishop Faustus expresses himself in the

following manner:

"Do you receive the gospel? (ask ye). Undoubtedly I do! Why

then, you also admit that Christ was born? Not so; for it by

no means follows that in believing the gospel, I should

therefore believe that Christ was born! Do you then think that

he was of the Virgin Mary? Manes hath said, 'Far be it that I

should ever own that Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . . . . .'"


Tertullian's manner of reasoning on the evidences of Christianity is

also in the same vein, as we saw in our last chapter.[512:2]

Mr. King, speaking of the Gnostic Christians, says:

"Their chief doctrines had been held for centuries before

(their time) in many of the cities in Asia Minor. There, it

is probable, they first came into existence as Mystae, upon

the establishment of direct intercourse with India, under

the Seleucidae and Ptolemies. The college of Essenes and

Megabyzae at Ephesus, the Orphics of Thrace, the Curets

of Crete, are all merely branches of one antique and common

religion, and that originally Asiatic."[512:3]

These early Christian Mystics are alluded to in several instances in the

New Testament. For example:

"Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in

the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not

that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God."[512:4]

"For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess

not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."[512:5]

This is language that could not have been used, if the reality of Christ

Jesus' existence as a man could not have been denied, or, it would

certainly seem, if the apostle himself had been able to give any

evidence whatever of the claim.

The quarrels on this subject lasted for a long time among the early

Christians. Hermas, speaking of this, says to the brethren:

"Take heed, my children, that your dissensions deprive you not

of your lives. How will ye instruct the elect of God, when ye

yourselves want correction? Wherefore admonish one another,

and be at peace among yourselves; that I, standing before your

father, may give an account of you unto the Lord."[512:6]

Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, says:[512:7]

"Only in the name of Jesus Christ, I undergo all, to suffer

together with him; he who was made a perfect man strengthening

me. Whom some, not knowing, do deny; or rather have been

denied by him, being the advocates of death, rather than of

the truth. Whom neither the prophecies, nor the law of Moses,

have persuaded; nor the Gospel itself even to this day, nor

the sufferings of any one of us. For they think also the

same thing of us; for what does a man profit me, if he shall

praise me, and blaspheme my Lord; not confessing that he was

truly made man?"

In his Epistle to the Philadelphians he says:[513:1]

"I have heard of some who say, unless I find it written in

the originals, I will not believe it to be written in the

Gospel. And when I said, It is written, they answered what lay

before them in their corrupted copies."

Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians, says:[513:2]

"Whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the

flesh, he is Antichrist: and whosoever does not confess his

sufferings upon the cross, is from the devil. And whosoever

perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts; and says

that there shall neither be any resurrection, nor judgment, he

is the first-born of Satan."

Ignatius says to the Magnesians:[513:3]

"Be not deceived with strange doctrines; nor with old fables

which are unprofitable. For if we still continue to live

according to the Jewish law, we do confess ourselves not to

have received grace. For even the most holy prophets lived

according to Jesus Christ. . . . Wherefore if they who were

brought up in these ancient laws came nevertheless to the

newness of hope; no longer observing Sabbaths, but keeping the

Lord's Day, in which also our life is sprung up by him, and

through his death, whom yet some deny. By which mystery

we have been brought to believe, and therefore wait that

we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only

master. . . . . These things, my beloved, I write unto you,

not that I know of any among you that be under this error;

but as one of the least among you, I am desirous to forewarn

you that ye fall not into the snares of vain doctrine."

After reading this we can say with the writer of Timothy,[513:4]

"Without controversy, great is the MYSTERY of godliness."

Beside those who denied that Christ Jesus had ever been manifest in the

flesh, there were others who denied that he had been

crucified.[513:5] This is seen from the words of Justin Martyr, in his

Apology for the Christian Religion, written A. D. 141, where he says:

"As to the objection to our Jesus's being crucified, I

say, suffering was common to all the Sons of Jove."[513:6]

This is as much as to say: "You Pagans claim that your incarnate

gods and Saviours suffered and died, then why should not we claim

the same for our Saviour?"

The Koran, referring to the Jews, says:

"They have not believed in Jesus, and have spoken against Mary

a grievous calumny, and have said: 'Verily we have slain

Christ Jesus, the son of Mary' (the apostle of God). Yet they

slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by

one in his likeness. And verily they who disagreed concerning

him were in a doubt as to this matter, and had no sure

knowledge thereof, but followed only an uncertain


This passage alone, from the Mohammedan Bible, is sufficient to show, if

other evidence were wanting, that the early Christians "disagreed

concerning him," and that "they had no sure knowledge thereof, but

followed only an uncertain opinion."

In the books which are now called Apocryphal, but which were the

most quoted, and of equal authority with the others, and which were

voted not the word of God--for obvious reasons--and were therefore

cast out of the canon, we find many allusions to the strife among the

early Christians. For instance; in the "First Epistle of Clement to the

Corinthians,"[514:2] we read as follows:

"Wherefore are there strifes, and anger, and divisions, and

schisms, and wars, among us? . . . Why do we rend and tear in

pieces the members of Christ, and raise seditions against our

own body? and are come to such a height of madness, as to

forget that we are members one of another."

In his Epistle to the Trallians, Ignatius says:[514:3]

"I exhort you, or rather not I, but the love of Jesus Christ,

that ye use none but Christian nourishment; abstaining from

pasture which is of another kind. I mean Heresy. For they

that are heretics, confound together the doctrine of Jesus

Christ with their own poison; whilst they seem worthy of

belief. . . . Stop your ears, therefore, as often as any one

shall speak contrary to Jesus Christ, who was of the race of

David, of the Virgin Mary. Who was truly born, and did eat

and drink; was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was

truly crucified and dead; both those in heaven and on earth,

and under the earth, being spectators of it. . . . But if, as

some who are atheists, that is to say, infidels, pretend,

that he only seemed to suffer, why then am I bound? Why do I

desire to fight with beasts? Therefore do I die in vain."

We find St. Paul, the very first Apostle of the Gentiles, expressly

avowing that he was made a minister of the gospel, which had already

been preached to every creature under heaven,[514:4] and preaching a

God manifest in the flesh, who had been believed on in the

world,[514:5] therefore, before the commencement of his ministry; and

who could not have been the man of Nazareth, who had certainly not been

preached, at that time, nor generally believed on in the world, till

ages after that time.[514:6] We find also that:

1. This Paul owns himself a deacon, the lowest ecclesiastical grade

of the Therapeutan church.

2. The Gospel of which these Epistles speak, had been extensively

preached and fully established before the time of Jesus, by the

Therapeuts or Essenes, who believed in the doctrine of the

Angel-Messiah, the AEon from heaven.[515:1]

Leo the Great, so-called (A. D. 440-461), writes thus:

"Let those who with impious murmurings find fault with the

Divine dispensations, and who complain about the lateness of

our Lord's nativity, cease from their grievances, as if what

was carried out in later ages of the world, had not been

impending in time past. . . .

"What the Apostles preached, the prophets (in Israel) had

announced before, and what has always been (universally)

believed, cannot be said to have been fulfilled too late.

By this delay of his work of salvation, the wisdom and love of

God have only made us more fitted for his call; so that, what

had been announced before by many Signs and Words and

Mysteries during so many centuries, should not be doubtful or

uncertain in the days of the gospel. . . God has not provided

for the interests of men by a new council or by a late

compassion; but he had instituted from the beginning for all

men, one and the same path of salvation."[515:2]

This is equivalent to saying that, "God, in his 'late compassion,' has

sent his Son, Christ Jesus, to save us, therefore do not complain or

'murmur' about 'the lateness of his coming,' for the Lord has already

provided for those who preceded us; he has given them 'the same path

of salvation' by sending to them, as he has sent to us, a

Redeemer and a Saviour."

Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Typho,[515:3] makes a similar

confession (as we have already seen in our last chapter), wherein he

says that there exists not a people, civilized or semi-civilized, who

have not offered up prayers in the name of a crucified Saviour to the

Father and Creator of all things.

Add to this medley the fact that St. Irenaeus (A. D. 192), one of the

most celebrated, most respected, and most quoted of the early Christian

Fathers, tells us on the authority of his master, Polycarp, who had it

from St. John himself, and from all the old people of Asia, that Jesus

was not crucified at the time stated in the Gospels, but that he lived

to be nearly fifty years old. The passage which, most fortunately, has

escaped the destroyers of all such evidence, is to be found in Irenaeus'

second book against heresies,[515:4] of which the following is a


"As the chief part of thirty years belongs to youth, and

every one will confess him to be such till the fortieth year:

but from the fortieth year to the fiftieth he declines into

old age, which our Lord (Jesus) having attained he taught us

the Gospel, and all the elders who, in Asia, assembled with

John, the disciple of the Lord, testify; and as John himself

had taught them. And he (John?) remained with them till the

time of Trajan. And some of them saw not only John but other

Apostles, and heard the same thing from them, and bear the

same testimony to this revelation."

The escape of this passage from the destroyers can be accounted for only

in the same way as the passage of Minucius Felix (quoted in Chapter XX.)

concerning the Pagans worshiping a crucifix. These two passages escaped

from among, probably, hundreds destroyed, of which we know nothing,

under the decrees of the emperors, yet remaining, by which they were

ordered to be destroyed.

In John viii. 56, Jesus is made to say to the Jews: "Your father Abraham

rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad." Then said the Jews

unto him: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen


If Jesus was then but about thirty years of age, the Jews would

evidently have said: "thou art not yet forty years old," and would not

have been likely to say: "thou art not yet fifty years old," unless he

was past forty.

There was a tradition current among the early Christians, that Annas

was high-priest when Jesus was crucified. This is evident from the

Acts.[516:1] Now, Annas, or Ananias, was not high-priest until about

the year 48 A. D.;[516:2] therefore, if Jesus was crucified at that

time he must have been about fifty years of age;[516:3] but, as we

remarked elsewhere, there exists, outside of the New Testament, no

evidence whatever, in book, inscription, or monument, that Jesus of

Nazareth was either scourged or crucified under Pontius Pilate.

Josephus, Tacitus, Plinius, Philo, nor any of their contemporaries, ever

refer to the fact of this crucifixion, or express any belief

thereon.[516:4] In the Talmud--the book containing Jewish

traditions--Jesus is not referred to as the "crucified one," but as the

"hanged one,"[516:5] while elsewhere it is narrated he was stoned to

death; so that it is evident they were ignorant of the manner of death

which he suffered.[516:6]

In Sanhedr. 43 a, Jesus it said to have had five disciples, among

whom were Mattheaus and Thaddeus. He is called "That Man," "The

Nazarine," "The Fool," and "The Hung." Thus Aben Ezra says that

Constantine put on his labarum "a figure of the hung;" and, according

to R. Bechai, the Christians were called "Worshipers of the Hung."

Little is said about Jesus in the Talmud, except that he was a scholar

of Joshua Ben Perachiah (who lived a century before the time assigned by

the Christians for the birth of Jesus), accompanied him into Egypt,

there learned magic, and was a seducer of the people, and was finally

put to death by being stoned, and then hung as a blasphemer.

"The conclusion is, that no clearly defined traces of the personal Jesus

remain on the surface, or beneath the surface, of Christendom. The

silence of Josephus and other secular historians may be accounted for

without falling back on a theory of hostility or contempt.[517:1] The

Christ-idea cannot be spared from Christian development, but the

personal Jesus, in some measure, can be."

"The person of Jesus, though it may have been immense, is indistinct.

That a great character was there may be conceded; but precisely wherein

the character was great, is left to our conjecture. Of the eminent

persons who have swayed the spiritual destinies of mankind, none has

more completely disappeared from the critical view. The ideal image

which Christians have, for nearly two thousand years, worshiped under

the name of Jesus, has no authentic, distinctly visible, counterpart in


"His followers have gone on with the process of idealization, placing

him higher and higher; making his personal existence more and more

essential; insisting more and more urgently on the necessity of private

intercourse with him; letting the Father subside into the background, as

an 'effluence,' and the Holy Ghost lapse from individual identity into

impersonal influence, in order that he might be all in all as

Regenerator and Saviour. From age to age the personal Jesus has been

made the object of an extreme adoration, till now faith in the living

Christ is the heart of the Gospel; philosophy, science, culture,

humanity are thrust resolutely aside, and the great teachers of the age

are extinguished in order that his light may shine." But, as Mr.

Frothingham remarks, in "The Cradle of the Christ": "In the order of

experience, historical and biographical truth is discovered by stripping

off layer after layer of exaggeration, and going back to the statements

of contemporaries. As a rule, figures are reduced, not enlarged, by

criticism. The influence of admiration is recognized as distorting and

falsifying, while exalting. The process of legend-making begins

immediately, goes on rapidly and with accelerating speed, and must be

liberally allowed for by the seeker after truth. In scores of instances

the historical individual turns out to be very much smaller than he was

painted by his terrified or loving worshipers. In no single case has it

been established that he was greater, or as great. It is, no doubt,

conceivable that such a case should occur, but it never has occurred, in

known instances, and cannot be presumed to have occurred in any

particular instance. The presumptions are against the correctness of the

glorified image. The disposition to exaggerate is so much stronger than

the disposition to underrate, that even really great men are placed

higher than they belong oftener than lower. The historical method works

backwards. Knowledge shrinks the man."[518:1]

As we are allowed to conjecture as to what is true in the Gospel

history, we shall now do so.

The death of Herod, which occurred a few years before the time assigned

for the birth of Jesus, was followed by frightful social and political

convulsions in Judea. For two or three years all the elements of

disorder were abroad. Between pretenders to the vacant throne of Herod,

and aspirants to the Messianic throne of David, Judea was torn and

devastated. Revolt assumed the wildest form, the higher enthusiasm of

faith yielded to the lower fury of fanaticism; the celestial visions

of a kingdom of heaven were completely banished by the smoke and flame

of political hate. Claimant after claimant of the dangerous supremacy

of the Messiah appeared, pitched a camp in the wilderness, raised the

banner, gathered a force, was attacked, defeated, banished or

crucified; but the frenzy did not abate.

The popular aspect of the Messianic hope was political, not religious

or moral. The name Messiah was synonymous with King of the Jews; it

suggested political designs and aspirations. The assumption of that

character by any individual drew on him the vigilance of the police.

That Jesus of Nazareth assumed the character of "Messiah," as did many

before and after him, and that his crucifixion[520:1] was simply an act

of the law on political grounds, just as it was in the case of other

so-called Messiahs, we believe to be the truth of the matter.[520:2]

"He is represented as being a native of Galilee, the insurgent

district of the country; nurtured, if not born, in Nazareth, one of its

chief cities; reared as a youth amid traditions of patriotic devotion,

and amid scenes associated with heroic dreams and endeavors. The

Galileans were restless, excitable people, beyond the reach of

conventionalities, remote from the centre of power, ecclesiastical and

secular, simple in their lives, bold of speech, independent in thought,

thoroughgoing in the sort of radicalism that is common among people who

live 'out of the world,' who have leisure to discuss the exciting topics

of the day, but too little knowledge, culture, or sense of social

responsibility to discuss them soundly. Their mental discontent and

moral intractability were proverbial. They were belligerents. The Romans

had more trouble with them than with the natives of any other province.

The Messiahs all started out from Galilee, and never failed to collect

followers round their standard. The Galileans, more than others, lived

in the anticipation of the Deliverer. The reference of the Messiah to

Galilee is therefore already an indication of the character he is to


To show the state the country must have been in at that time, we will

quote an incident or two from Josephus.

A religious enthusiast called the Samaritans together upon Mount

Gerizim, and assured them that he would work a miracle. "So they came

thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as

they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got

the rest together of them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great

multitude together: but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon

the roads by a great band of horsemen and footmen, who fell upon those

who were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action,

some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took

a great many alive, the principal of whom, and also the most potent of

those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain."[521:1]

Not long before this Pilate pillaged the temple treasury, and used the

"sacred money" to bring a current of water to Jerusalem. The Jews were

displeased with this, "and many ten thousands of the people got together

and made a clamor against him. Some of them used reproaches, and abused

the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great

number of his soldiers in their habits, who carried daggers under their

garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he

bade the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon

him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed

on; who laid upon them with much greater blows than Pilate had commanded

them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that

were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people

were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about,

there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others ran

away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition."[522:1]

It was such deeds as these, inflicted upon the Jews by their oppressors,

that made them think of the promised Messiah who was to deliver them

from bondage, and which made many zealous fanatics imagine themselves to

be "He who should come."[522:2]

There is reason to believe, as we have said, that Jesus of Nazareth

assumed the title of "Messiah." His age was throbbing and bursting

with suppressed energy. The pressure of the Roman Empire was required to

keep it down. "The Messianic hope had such vitality that it condensed

into moments the moral result of ages. The common people were watching

to see the heavens open, interpreted peals of thunder as angel voices,

and saw divine potents in the flight of birds. Mothers dreamed their

boys would be Messiah. The wildest preacher drew a crowd. The heart of

the nation swelled big with the conviction that the hour of destiny was

about to strike, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The crown was

ready for any kingly head that might assume it."[522:3]

The actions of this man, throughout his public career, we believe to be

those of a zealot whose zeal overrode considerations of wisdom; in fact,

a Galilean fanatic. Pilate condemns him reluctantly, feeling that he is

a harmless visionary, but is obliged to condemn him as one of the many

who persistently claimed to be the "Messiah," or "King of the Jews,"

an enemy of Caesar, an instrument against the empire, a pretender to the

throne, a bold inciter to rebellion. The death he undergoes is the death

of the traitor and mutineer,[522:4] the death that was inflicted on many

such claimants, the death that would have been decreed to Judas the

Galilean,[522:5] had he been captured, and that was inflicted on

thousands of his deluded followers. It was the Romans, then, who

crucified the man Jesus, and not the Jews.

"In the Roman law the State is the main object, for which the

individual must live and die, with or against his will. In Jewish law,

the person is made the main object, for which the State must live and

die; because the fundamental idea of the Roman law is power, and the

fundamental idea of Jewish law is justice."[523:1] Therefore Caiaphas

and his conspirators did not act from the Jewish standpoint. They

represented Rome, her principles, interest, and barbarous

caprices.[523:2] Not one point in the whole trial agrees with Jewish

laws and custom.[523:3] It is impossible to save it; it must be given up

as a transparent and unskilled invention of a Gentile Christian, who

knew nothing of Jewish law and custom, and was ignorant of the state of

civilization in Palestine, in the time of Jesus.

Jesus had been proclaimed the "Messiah," the "Ruler of the Jews,"

and the restorer of the kingdom of heaven. No Roman ear could understand

these pretensions, otherwise than in their rebellious sense. That

Pontius Pilate certainly understood under the title, "Messiah," the

king (the political chief of the nation), is evident from the

subscription of the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," which

he did not remove in spite of all protestations of the Jews. There is

only one point in which the four Gospels agree, and that is, that

early in the morning Jesus was delivered over to the Roman governor,

Pilate; that he was accused of high-treason against Rome--having been

proclaimed King of the Jews--and that in consequence thereof he was

condemned first to be scourged, and then to be crucified; all of which

was done in hot haste. In all other points the narratives of the

Evangelists differ widely, and so essentially that one story cannot be

made of the four accounts; nor can any particular points stand the test

of historical criticism, and vindicate its substantiality as a fact.

The Jews could not have crucified Jesus, according to their laws, if

they had inflicted on him the highest penalty of the law, since

crucifixion was exclusively Roman.[524:1] If the priests, elders,

Pharisees, Jews, or all of them wanted Jesus out of the way so badly,

why did they not have him quietly put to death while he was in their

power, and done at once. The writer of the fourth Gospel seems to have

understood this difficulty, and informs us that they could not kill him,

because he had prophesied what death he should die; so he could die no

other. It was dire necessity, that the heathen symbol of life and

immortality--the cross[524:2]--should be brought to honor among the

early Christians, and Jesus had to die on the cross (the Roman Gibbet),

according to John[524:3] simply because it was so prophesied. The

fact is, the crucifixion story, like the symbol of the crucifix itself,

came from abroad.[524:4] It was told with the avowed intention of

exonerating the Romans, and criminating the Jews, so they make the Roman

governor take water, "and wash his hands before the multitude, saying,

I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it." To

be sure of their case, they make the Jews say: "His blood be on us, and

on our children."[524:5]

"Another fact is this. Just at the period of time when misfortune and

ruination befell the Jews most severely, in the first post-apostolic

generation, the Christians were most active in making proselytes among

Gentiles. To have then preached that a crucified Jewish Rabbi of

Galilee was their Saviour, would have sounded supremely ridiculous to

those heathens. To have added thereto, that the said Rabbi was crucified

by command of a Roman Governor, because he had been proclaimed 'King of

the Jews,' would have been fatal to the whole scheme. In the opinion of

the vulgar heathen, where the Roman Governor and Jewish Rabbi came in

conflict, the former must unquestionably be right, and the latter

decidedly wrong. To have preached a Saviour who was justly condemned to

die the death of a slave and villain, would certainly have proved fatal

to the whole enterprise. Therefore it was necessary to exonerate Pilate

and the Romans, and to throw the whole burden upon the Jews, in order to

establish the innocence and martyrdom of Jesus in the heathen mind."

That the crucifixion story, as related in the synoptic Gospels, was

written abroad, and not in the Hebrew, or in the dialect spoken by

the Hebrews of Palestine, is evident from the following particular

points, noticed by Dr. Isaac M. Wise, a learned Hebrew scholar:

The Mark and Matthew narrators call the place of crucifixion

"Golgotha," to which the Mark narrator adds, "which is, being

interpreted, the place of skulls." The Matthew narrator adds the same

interpretation, which the John narrator copies without the word

"Golgotha," and adds, it was a place near Jerusalem. The Luke

narrator calls the place of crucifixion "Calvary," which is the LATIN

Calvaria, viz., "the place of bare skulls." Therefore the name does

not refer to the form of the hill, but to the bare skulls upon

it.[525:1] Now "there is no such word as GOLGOTHA anywhere in Jewish

literature, and there is no such place mentioned anywhere near Jerusalem

or in Palestine by any writer; and, in fact, there was no such place;

there could have been none near Jerusalem. The Jews buried their dead

carefully. Also the executed convict had to be buried before night. No

bare skulls, bleaching in the sun, could be found in Palestine,

especially not near Jerusalem. It was law, that a bare skull, the bare

spinal column, and also the imperfect skeleton of any human being, make

man unclean by contact, and also by having either in the house. Man,

thus made unclean, could not eat of any sacrificial meal, or of the

sacred tithe, before he had gone through the ceremonies of purification;

and whatever he touched was also unclean (Maimonides, Hil. Tumath Meth.,

iii. 1). Any impartial reader can see that the object of this law was to

prevent the barbarous practice of heathens of having human skulls and

skeletons lie about exposed to the decomposing influences of the

atmosphere, as the Romans did in Palestine after the fall of Bethar,

when for a long time they would give no permission to bury the dead

patriots. This law was certainly enforced most rigidly in the vicinity

of Jerusalem, of which they maintained "Jerusalem is more holy than all

other cities surrounded with walls," so that it was not permitted to

keep a dead body over night in the city, or to transport through it

human bones. Jerusalem was the place of the sacrificial meals and the

consumption of the sacred tithe, which was considered very holy

(Maimonides, Hil. Beth Habchirah, vii. 14); there, and in the

surroundings, skulls and skeletons were certainly never seen on the

surface of the earth, and consequently there was no place called

"Golgotha," and there was no such word in the Hebrew dialect. It is a

word coined by the Mark narrator to translate the Latin term

"Calvaria," which, together with the crucifixion story, came from

Rome. But after the Syrian word was made, nobody understood it, and the

Mark narrator was obliged to expound it."[526:1]

In the face of the arguments produced, the crucifixion story, as related

in the Gospels, cannot be upheld as an historical fact. There exists,

certainly, no rational ground whatever for the belief that the affair

took place in the manner the Evangelists describe it. All that can be

saved of the whole story is, that after Jesus had answered the first

question before Pilate, viz., "Art thou the King of the Jews?" which it

is natural to suppose he was asked, and also this can be supposed only,

he was given over to the Roman soldiers to be disposed of as soon as

possible, before his admirers and followers could come to his rescue, or

any demonstration in his favor be made. He was captured in the night, as

quietly as possible, and guarded in some place, probably in the

high-priest's court, completely secluded from the eyes of the populace;

and early in the morning he was brought before Pilate as cautiously and

quietly as it could be done, and at his command, disposed of by the

soldiers as quickly as practicable, and in a manner not known to the

mass of the people. All this was done, most likely, while the multitude

worshiped on Mount Moriah, and nobody had an intimation of the tragical

end of the Man of Nazareth.

The bitter cry of Jesus, as he hung on the tree, "My God, my God, why

hast thou forsaken me?" disclosed the hope of deliverance that till the

last moment sustained his heart, and betrayed the anguish felt when the

hope was blighted; the sneers and hooting of the Roman soldiers

expressed their conviction that he had pretended to be what he was not.

The miracles ascribed to him, and the moral precepts put into his mouth,

in after years, are what might be expected; history was simply repeating

itself; the same thing had been done for others. "The preacher of the

Mount, the prophet of the Beatitudes, does but repeat, with persuasive

lips, what the law-givers of his race proclaimed in mighty tones of


The martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth has been gratefully acknowledged by

his disciples, whose lives he saved by the sacrifice of his own, and by

their friends, who would have fallen by the score had he not prevented

the rebellion ripe at Jerusalem.[527:2] Posterity, infatuated with Pagan

apotheoses, made of that simple martyrdom an interesting legend, colored

with the myths of resurrection and ascension to that very heaven which

the telescope has put out of man's way. It is a novel myth, made to suit

the gross conceptions of ex-heathens. Modern theology, understanding

well enough that the myth cannot be saved, seeks refuge in the greatness

and self-denial of the man who died for an idea, as though Jesus had

been the only man who had died for an idea. Thousands, tens of thousands

of Jews, Christians, Mohammedans and Heathens, have died for ideas, and

some of them were very foolish. But Jesus did not die for an idea. He

never advanced anything new, that we know of, to die for. He was not

accused of saying or teaching anything original. Nobody has ever been

able to discover anything new and original in the Gospels. He evidently

died to save the lives of his friends, and this is much more meritorious

than if he had died for a questionable idea. But then the whole fabric

of vicarious atonement is demolished, and modern theology cannot get

over the absurdity that the Almighty Lord of the Universe, the infinite

and eternal cause of all causes, had to kill some innocent person in

order to be reconciled to the human race. However abstractly they

speculate and subtilize, there is always an undigested bone of man-god,

god-man, and vicarious atonement in the theological stomach. Therefore

theology appears so ridiculous in the eyes of modern philosophy. The

theological speculation cannot go far enough to hold pace with modern

astronomy. However nicely the idea may be dressed, the great God of the

immense universe looks too small upon the cross of Calvary; and the

human family is too large, has too numerous virtues and vices, to be

perfectly represented by, and dependent on, one Rabbi of Galilee.

Speculate as they may, one way or another, they must connect the Eternal

and the fate of the human family with the person and fate of Jesus. That

is the very thing which deprives Jesus of his crown of martyrdom, and

brings religion in perpetual conflict with philosophy. It was not the

religious idea which was crucified in Jesus and resurrected with him, as

with all its martyrs; although his belief in immortality may have

strengthened him in the agony of death. It was the idea of duty to his

disciples and friends which led him to the realms of death. This

deserves admiration, but no more. It demonstrates the nobility of human

nature, but proves nothing in regard to providence, or the providential

scheme of government.

The Christian story, as the Gospels narrate it, cannot stand the test

of criticism. You approach it critically and it falls. Dogmatic

Christology built upon it, has, therefore, a very frail foundation.

Most so-called lives of Christ, or biographies of Jesus, are works of

fiction, erected by imagination on the shifting foundation of meagre and

unreliable records. There are very few passages in the Gospels which can

stand the rigid application of honest criticism. In modern science and

philosophy, orthodox Christology is out of the question.

"This 'sacred tradition' has in itself a glorious vitality, which

Christians may unblameably entitle immortal. But it certainly will not

lose in beauty, grandeur, or truth, if all the details concerning Jesus

which are current in the Gospels, and all the mythology of his person,

be forgotten or discredited. Christianity will remain without Christ.

"This formula has in it nothing paradoxical. Rightly interpreted, it

simply means: All that is best in Judaeo-Christian sentiment, moral or

spiritual, will survive, without Rabbinical fancies, cultured by

perverse logic; without huge piles of fable built upon them: without the

Oriental Satan, a formidable rival to the throne of God; without the

Pagan invention of Hell and Devils."

In modern criticism, the Gospel sources become so utterly worthless and

unreliable, that it takes more than ordinary faith to believe a large

portion thereof to be true. The Eucharist was not established by

Jesus, and cannot be called a sacrament. The trials of Jesus are

positively not true: they are pure inventions.[528:1] The crucifixion

story, as narrated, is certainly not true, and it is extremely

difficult to save the bare fact that Jesus was crucified. What can the

critic do with books in which a few facts must be ingeniously guessed

from under the mountain of ghost stories,[528:2] childish

miracles,[529:1] and dogmatic tendencies?[529:2] It is absurd to expect

of him to regard them as sources of religious instruction, in preference

to any other mythologies and legends. That is the point at which modern

critics have arrived, therefore, the Gospels have become books for the

museum and archaeologist, for students of mythology and ancient


The spirit of dogmatic Christology hovers still over a portion of

civilized society, in antic organizations, disciplines, and hereditary

forms of faith and worship; in science and philosophy, in the realm of

criticism, its day is past. The universal, religious, and ethical

element of Christianity has no connection whatever with Jesus or his

apostles, with the Gospel, or the Gospel story; it exists independent

of any person or story. Therefore it needs neither the Gospel story nor

its heroes. If we profit by the example, by the teachings, or the

discoveries of men of past ages, to these men we are indebted, and are

in duty bound to acknowledge our indebtedness; but why should we give to

one individual, Jesus of Nazareth, the credit of it all? It is true,

that by selecting from the Gospels whatever portions one may choose, a

common practice among Christian writers, a noble and grand character

may be depicted, but who was the original of this character? We may

find the same individual outside of the Gospels, and before the time of

Jesus. The moral precepts of the Gospels, also, were in existence before

the Gospels themselves were in existence.[529:3] Why, then, extol the

hero of the Gospels, and forget all others?

As it was at the end of Roman Paganism, so is it now: the masses are

deceived and fooled, or do it for themselves, and persons of vivacious

fantasies prefer the masquerade of delusion, to the simple sublimity of

naked but majestic truth. The decline of the church as a political power

proves beyond a doubt the decline of Christian faith. The conflicts of

Church and State all over the European continent, and the hostility

between intelligence and dogmatic Christianity, demonstrates the death

of Christology in the consciousness of modern culture. It is useless

to shut our eyes to these facts. Like rabbinical Judaism, dogmatic

Christianity was the product of ages without typography, telescopes,

microscopes, telegraphs, and power of steam. "These right arms of

intelligence have fought the titanic battles, conquered and demolished

the ancient castles, and remove now the debris, preparing the ground

upon which there shall be the gorgeous temple of humanity, one universal

republic, one universal religion of intelligence, and one great

universal brotherhood. This is the new covenant, the gospel of humanity

and reason."

"----Hoaryheaded selfishness has felt

Its death-blow, and is tottering to the grave:

A brighter morn awaits the human day;

War with its million horrors, and fierce hell,

Shall live but in the memory of time,

Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start,

Look back, and shudder at his younger years."